Appeal to Alan Shatner

Posted on July 8, 2013

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Ugly Mugs IE is an independent scheme that produces alerts for sex workers about potentially dangerous clients, a model which is working around the world. They have given us permission to repost their open letter to the Irish Minister for Justice and equality.

Following the publication on 27 June 2013 of the Justice Committee Report on hearings and submissions on the Review of Legislation of Prostitution, we wrote to Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Equality, about sex worker safety.

The Justice Committee recommended the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, despite the international body of evidence that this model harms sex workers.

The Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) coalition calling for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex has enjoyed strong political support since its inception. Several members of the Justice Committee were formal supporters of TORL before the Justice Committee review even began.

It is a matter of great shame that sex workers, the very people whose lives will be impacted upon by any changes in prostitution legislation, were not given a fair hearing by this Justice Committee.

We are aware of about 50 sex workers who made submissions to the Justice Committee and/or asked to give evidence to the Justice Committee. However the Justice Committee was only prepared to hear from two sex workers, selected by the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland, and only in private, so their evidence would not be a matter of public record. Following this, a member of the Justice Committee publicly speculated in the media that they suspected these two sex workers may have been lying, and, since the publication of the report, one of these two sex workers has made a complaint to the Justice Committee stating her evidence was misrepresented in the report.

In addition to recommending the purchase or attempted purchase of sex be criminalised, the Justice Committee has made other recommendations that will clearly impact on the safety of sex workers.

To date sex workers have been able to work indoors legally provided they work alone, and landlords have been able to rent to single sex workers, but the Justice Committee is now recommending a new criminal offence of allowing a premises to be used for prostitution, which will prevent sex workers being able to rent accommodation. Further the Justice Committee is recommending that Gardai and charities have the power to shut down phone numbers being used for prostitution and that accessing prostitution websites be treated the same in law as accessing child porn websites.

These recommendations are clearly designed to try to take away sex workers’ access to accommodation and phones and the Internet and force them out of the safety of working indoors and onto the streets. These proposed measures, which happen to be exactly what the Magdalene laundry order group Ruhama requested, are nothing short of barbaric.

As the operator of UglyMugs.ie, the main sex worker safety scheme in Ireland, which has recorded over 4000 incidents of abuse (as reported to us by sex workers) since 2009, we are acutely aware of the devastating consequences for sex worker safety these proposed laws, designed to strip them of accommodation and the ability to communicate with each other, could have. Of course, if sex workers cannot access phones or the Internet, this also prevents their use of Ugly Mugs schemes.

UglyMugs.ie made a submission to the Justice Committee and requested the opportunity to give evidence. However, with the exception of obtaining confirmation that UglyMugs.ie submission was received and recorded as reference 2012/1065a, we have been completely ignored by the Justice Committee. Indeed the entire issue of Ugly Mugs schemes and sex worker safety has been completely ignored throughout the entire Justice Committee hearings process and in their report.

We wrote to Alan Shatter on 3 July 2013 to put it to him that the safety of sex workers is not a trivial matter not worthy of any consideration. It is outrageous that the Justice Committee chose not to consider the already appalling safety situation for sex workers, the lack of any useful support services for sex workers, or any of the measures that could improve sex worker safety, and has instead proposed a raft of new laws which would clearly make the safety situation of sex workers vastly worse.

Wild unfounded claims have been a strong feature of this prostitution debate. But it is with no such sensationalism that we warned Alan Shatter that the very lives of sex workers are at risk here, rather it is with the experience and evidence of years of recording crimes against sex workers and abuse of sex workers.

We are asking that Alan Shatter takes crimes against sex workers and the abuse of sex workers seriously. It is unacceptable that this issue has been ignored by the Justice Committee review of prostitution legislation. We are calling on Alan Shatter, as Minister for Justice and Equality, to intervene in this matter and ensure that it is now looked at by his Department.

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